Question about "Letters to B__ AKA "Letter to Mr.___ ___ : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread


In his "selected anthology of EAP," Edward H. Davidson states in his notes to "Letters to B__ AKA "Letter to Mr.___ ___, In his reference to Aristotl'e claim about poetr Poe is seeking authorization for a didactic poetry. He adds, correctly, "in after years he(poe) seduously denied that poetry in and way had "truth as its object". If "The Poetic Principle" is representative of Poe's views, i wont contest the latter statement. Given the overalldrift and argument of "Letter to B____, confirm or deny Davidson's assertion about "SEEKING AUTHORIZATION FOR DIDACTIC POETRY."

-- Anonymous, December 11, 2003


Ostrom is an excellent resource and is used in the collection at However I can't find this example. If the date of the letter is early Poe's ideas certainly hardened away from didactic values toward beauty and a spiritual musicality, a magic mood hard to define but the goal of his entire artisitic method. The Poetic Principle should be taken as the standard with some note that P9oe himself was a deeply analytical thinker whose ideas and meaning permeated his works so much that even his outright discourses on themes seem natural offsahoots of the main work. In a way so does the beauty, the fantasy, derive from that same "supernal" and personal muse. What is most hard to "expalin" is far more important than ideas OR artful beauty, but without that quality, that inner justification, aesthetics or philosophy is mere prose in a box no matter what literary form it takes.

-- Anonymous, December 11, 2003

The "Letter to B ----" is actually Poe's own "fictional" prose- Preface to his 1831 ("second") volume of "Poems", and the "Letter to - ---", merely its 1836 reprint (with some variants) for the"Southern Literary Messenger". This text comes thus from the beginning of Poe's literary (poetical) carreer, and shows well his very early aesthetical "credo", though "purloining" many concepts from both Wordsworth and Coleridge, while SEEMING laughing at them. What you have got from the excellent Davidson (by the way, try to find his complete "Poe: a Critical Study", still far better) is quite correct. But Poe , if conceding some real pleasure in (from) instruction at this time, and thus n acceptable aim for "mean" poetry, will become rapidly srongly hostile against any form of didacticism, not only in poems, but also in any form of work of art worthy of the name, especially in the short (fiction) story. The sole aim Poe accepts is Beauty, and from it shall derive all the relevant and rightly expected pleasure(s).... Utility has nothing to do with an art- product, a statement Poe profusely repeated till the day he died (cfr. precisely his 1848-49 "Poetic Principle" lecture. No more for the moment. I shall try to exhume my own "Davidson's Anthology" in order to check all that you are alluding to. Good luck with your clever and earnest readings of Magic Poe! Yours sincerely, Raven's Shade (Belgium).

-- Anonymous, December 12, 2003

Sorry for my blunder... The "Letter to Mr.-- --" is actually the 1831 text, and the "Letter to B----" the 1836 one. Note that the short editorial introduction to the 1836 "Southern Literary Messenger" reprint (written by Poe himself) may imply, after less than five years, already some distance taken from the initial notion of possible philosophical exposition in a poem. And we must not forget, too, that Poe had very great ambition when composing his 1829 (unfinished...!) "Al Aaraaf". He seems to have felt very early the incompatibility between any work of Art (e.g. Poetry) and the expression of Truth (cfr his sonnet "To Science" introducing this very poem), though hoping still, at this time, to give in verse a kind of bright vision of the ideal artist's divine (sacred) function and everlasting searching for holy unearthly Beauty. And note, moreover, that when he published, near the end of his life, in 1848, his other ambitious cosmological/philosophical lecture/treatise on "The Universe" (entitled "Eureka"), he chose to call it (though in prose)... a POEM! That is what we may consider, I think, as a truly evolutive thought. Yours, Raven's Shade (Belgium).

-- Anonymous, December 12, 2003

A few words more. Your question/objection is a really difficult one! I just find my "Davidson Anthology", and you are right to a t... It seems that Davidson was misreading Poe... and Aristotle too! You can find at two other critical reviews wherein Poe used the same Greek (mis)quotation in order to condemn didacticism in general, viz. Cockton's practical joke - novel "Stanley Thorn" (in "Graham's Magazine", Jan., 1842, repeating almost verbatim the paragraph, condemning Wordsworth's and other Lakists' heresy, from the 1831/1836 "Letters to °°°°"), and Miss E. B. Barrett's "Drama of Exile...." (in the "Broadway Journal", Jan.?, 1845, clearly condemning a poem for its Didacticism). In fact, Poe followed Wordsworth's misquotation of Aristotle and combatted the idea that Poetry is the "most philosophical writing", while Aristotle was actually saying that "Poetry is MORE philosophical than History". Davidson, erring with Aristotle's quotation and Poe's misapplication of it, and apparently ignoring Poe's other instances of the same expression, seems to have believed that in the early "Letters to °°° °", Poe was not rejecting didacticism in Poetry. He may even have been lead to some consistent concatenation of comparative/retrospective reflections on Poe's aesthetical ideas about this subject, just as I myself submitted yesterday, in total modesty, to your own appreciation and judgement. In any case a very complex matter, indeed, that you have so cleverly pointed out! Hoping all this creeping talk somewhat helpful to your research, Yours sincerely, Raven's Shade (Belgium) -- from the noisiest cyber-café I ever knew! Sorry.

-- Anonymous, December 13, 2003

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